Monster Rancher is something of a unique franchise. While never widely popular among mainstream audiences, it garnered a pretty decent cult following. I religiously watched the anime on Saturday mornings and played the first game on the PlayStation. To learn that a remaster of the first two games was coming made me feel like I was six years old again. Luckily, Monster Rancher 1 and 2 DX lives up to its predecessor.
The problem with similar games is that they reuse the same formula every couple of years without adding many changes. Fortunately, The Monster Rancher franchise has always changed the formula. They have gone from being more RPG centric, card-based or even descending through levels of a tower.
“To advance in Monster Rancher, tournaments are the main avenue in both games.”
Mechanically speaking, the two games in the collection play pretty similarly. You start by becoming a new monster breeder, picking one of three starting monsters to raise on your farm. The monsters that you raise have six stats in which you can train. They increase things such as your monster’s health, speed and strength. You can make your monster take jobs, each of which can increase some stats, but decrease others. You can also send your monster to train, which not only increases stats but also grants them new skills.
There’s a heavy strategy feel to the games, and you must constantly think about how to specialise each monster you receive. Obviously, your monsters can be all-rounders, but that could also be detrimental to your progression.
To advance in Monster Rancher, tournaments are the main avenue in both games, with the second having a bit more. There are several tournaments you can take participate in, and most are almost like exhibition matches, earning you money and fame for your monsters. Some are more official tournaments. These are the ones you need to strive for, as winning these help advance your breeder rank and compete in higher tournaments.
“The biggest difference between the two games is the narrative.”
How you fight in the tournaments also leans into the strategic aspects of the game. You do not directly control the monster themselves. Instead, you control the distance of them to the other enemy. That, itself, is a heavily important aspect of fighting in Monster Rancher. Not only do you need to be mindful of where your monster is, but also of the skills you have selected. Your available skills depend on the distance from the opposing monster too; Mixing close and long-range attacks are essential in winning fights. Furthermore, the use of attacks cost points, which is something you need to be mindful of when taking part in these.
The biggest difference between the two games is the narrative. While both games are quite non-linear, only the second has what equates to a traditional story. The first benefits from leaning more towards the strategic aspects. There are still NPCs that talk and interact but the main progression is based on how fast you want to go. The second game takes that further by adding story threads when you hit certain milestones.
One of my favourite things about both games is the use of the Disc Stone system. With the original releases, you could insert a CD into the Playstation, and when you did, you gained a different monster, depending on the data on the CD. As the switch is a portable system, this feature had to be streamlined for the remasters. Developer, Koei Tecmo, had a challenge in making this feature work. Instead of removing it entirely, Koei Tecmo created a database that you can draw from in order to generate a monster. Doing this allows you to generate a number of different monsters, all looking unique.
“With the being a collection of games that are now over twenty years old, I had concerns it wouldn’t feel or look like it belonged.”
The generation of monsters is also counterbalanced by the combining system. Essentially a breeding system, you can fuse two of your monsters and get a different one as a result. How the monster looks and what stats it has is dependant on the two-parent monsters. This lets you create new and exciting variations of all the monsters in the game. With an already extensive catalogue of monsters, and more being brought over from the Japanese version, now is the best time to experience the entire catalogue as it was intended.
With the being a collection of games that are now over twenty years old, I had concerns it wouldn’t feel or look like it belonged. However, Koei Tecmo did amazing with the collection. The slightly upscaled graphics and revamped soundtrack are just some of the quality of life improvements that they knew needed to be made. It runs like a dream too, with no noticeable dips in frame rate even when playing it in handheld mode. Even the additional borders that were used to counter an aspect ratio stretch felt like they belonged. They look really nice and don’t draw your eye away from the game itself.
“This could be a great game to pick up for cheap over the holiday period.”
I had an absolute blast playing the collection, but unfortunately, the controls were a little bit of an issue. While Monster Rancher 1 and 2 DX is a great game, it also plays exactly like the original versions, making it feel a little clunky at times. While this, to some, might not be a bad thing, it might turn a lot of people off the franchise.
I was also pleasantly surprised about the price point. At £24.99 (or your regional equivalent), there is definite value for money. Koei Tecmo seemingly knows that pricing the game lower than expected will draw in consumers. With the recent Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Pearl not being a great remake, this could be a great game to pick up for cheap over the holiday period.
You can check out Monster Rancher 1 and 2 DX on Nintendo Switch now.
*Disclaimer: Reviewed on Nintendo Switch, code was provided by the Publisher.